Saturday, February 4, 2012

NCLB Waiver: False Advertising

There is much misconception among legislators, teachers, parents, and members of the public regarding the No Child Left Behind waivers as they do not realize that it does not get rid of NCLB. We are not free.

Instead, it keeps high-stakes testing, ties teacher performance to test scores, labels schools, and demands adherence to Common Core Standards in order to get funding and release from the 100 percent 2014 goal, and that is just for starters.

The NCLB Waivers are nothing more than blackmail to get all states to adhere to the Race to the Top principles pushed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. While many states are applying for the waiver rather than be labeled as failures in two years when the 100 percent meeting requirement goes into effect, some are not.

Furthermore, the waivers are not innovative. They are a template of what the federal government's design of what our state's education reform plan should be. What ever happened to local control? This is from the NCLB Waivers: The Devil's in the Details:

"ESEA Flexibility Requests

This all started when 11 states had asked for waivers, after the DOE announced they would offer a "flexibility package" from some provisions of No Child Left Behind, especially ones the states felt they couldn't reach by the target dates set by NCLB. States submitted what is called an ESEA Flexibility Request. This link will take you to a Word document which spells out exactly what should be in the request, and how it should be organized. It's really a template that all states must use to get the waiver."

California refused to apply stating that the waiver is an unfunded mandate and will cost the state 2 -2.7 billion dollars to implement. Furthermore, California is concerned about the new rules of the waiver which require states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, adopt the Common Core State Standards, and to remediate the bottom 15 percent of schools.

Diane Ravitch was recently interviewed on what we can learn from California's choice to not apply for the NCLB waiver. She said:

"If California could send a message to other states, it should be this: There are no easy answers, no quick fixes, no solutions that can be supplied by Washington. We are all involved in the job of school improvement–parents, students, teachers, administrators, the local community. We must work together to raise up the next generation, to make sure they are healthy and prepared for good lives as citizens of our society. Our public schools are and will continue to be a vital part of our democratic society. We must improve the schools by making sure that every child in every community has a full and balanced curriculum. We must require that every school has an arts program and physical education. Our future as a state and nation depends on the education we provide today.

Other states, like Montana, had wished Duncan had frozen the state academic mandates in this time of economic crisis. They also questioned cost and whether the waivers would do damage to local control over things like teacher evaluations. Other states are concerned about and strings being attached to the waiver and what the waiver plan would mean if ESEA were reauthorized with changes that were different than that of the waiver. With so much up in the air it seems that the process should be slowed or be given a reprieve in these tough economic times.

In other states, leaders had the vision to question what the trade off really was for applying for the NCLB waiver. In Oregon, sadly, this wasn't the case.

Here in Oregon, if one listened to public input on the waiver plan, the plan would look a lot different: no high-stakes testing, no teacher evaluations tied to test scores, and no narrowing of the curriculum. You would find a plan that values teachers, small class sizes, local control, education funded in a quality an equitable way, a well-rounded education with plenty of opportunities for all of Oregon's children, assessments judged by our state's teachers that shows student growth, and wrap around services. However, instead when the waiver was paraded around the state, input was allowed, but not really valued as the waiver application was submitted in the middle of all the scheduled public input meetings. In Ashland, for example, teachers and schools express frustration by the lack of details, costs, and appreciation of valued public input.

In this legislative session, the question should really be about whether or not we want to apply for the waiver. Instead, it looks like it is a done deal the way that the Governor and OEIB want it.

In any event, now the focus will be on the Achievement Compacts. While one can only hope that perhaps the AC's will go away, the speed at which all of these reforms are coming along in our state is alarming. It will be up to the public and legislators to demand details, because while we all want a better education system for all our children, the question really is one of philosophy and in how we get there.

Our legislators need to slow this process down and really think about what the consequences will be for making these choices. The state needs to have a real dialogue with educators and the public and make an effort to really listen this time.

So far, any questions that have been asked such as cost, narrowing of curriculum, and how to address poverty have been met with vague answers at best. Leaders of the education reform plan seem to hope it will just all work out, and that if they can just get it all started, then the questions will go away.

It won't be that easy.

We at Oregon SOS urge you to email, call, or visit with your legislators to ask these important questions. Many are overwhelmed with the demands of a short session, but they need to hear your input. I just met with one of mine, and the information and questions were truly appreciated.

If you can attend any of the public meetings listed on our events page, that would be another great way to be heard. Talk to your friends, your children's teachers, and principals about concerns. Talk to your school board. Talk to your neighbors and family too. Every little bit helps.

Also, attend the Strong Schools = Strong Oregon rally Monday, Feb. 20th and help support the message that our state needs to provide and fund quality schools to our children and the generations that will follow. Bring the kids.

Make our voice one that will not be ignored. Our children are depending on us.

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